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Learning Skills and 
the Trivium 

By Jarett Sanchez 































Kairos and stasis 67 














I believe that our education system in the United States is broken, and that if 
given the tools of learning, anyone can get a high quality education in a Do-It-Yourself 
manner without attending any college, or even high school. What you’ll read here is not 
found in any public school, and even though some homeschoolers have a certain version 
of it, they’ve never known it in this way. Nobody has, until now. This is a beginner’s 
guide to the liberal arts, known as the Trivium, which focuses on the practical skills 
instead of the academic subjects. It does not provide a curriculum of any kind. It also 
does not go into great depth on any of the three Trivium subjects — you will need 
textbooks and/or audio courses for that, there is no way around it. But where it lacks in 
complete detail and ready-made lesson plans, it makes up for in broad strokes and 
dependable outlines. You can get yourself started with just this essay and a little 

This essay focuses on study skills. I prefer to call them “learning skills” because 
I studied a lot in school but I didn’t leam very much. I certainly didn’t leam that I could 
approach the learning of any subject in almost the exact same way. And I certainly didn’t 
leam that I could educate myself to a very high degree, without going to college. Most 
of what I learned in school was memorized in the short-term in order to complete 
homework assignments and pass the tests. I had to jump through hoops — no real learning 
was required. Just enough memorization and understanding to fill in some blanks. Do 
you remember Algebra 2 or Chemistry still? Ten points if you do. 

Once upon a time in the United States, there was a thing called the one-room 
school house, or Dame school, and it was unique because it put students of all ages in a 
large room together with a teacher acting as facilitator. She would provide basic 
instructions but as the older students learned the material, they would help to teach the 
younger students. While it wasn’t a perfect system, that attitude of more experienced 
students helping newer students leam mns through this entire essay. It wasn’t until 
Horace Mann introduced the Prussian model of education into United States schools that 
students were broken up into age groups and given lectures instead of hands-on 


instruction. The basic pattern set by Mann lingers with us to this day. The Prussian 
model of education was designed to make the population of Prussia docile and 
subservient to the will of the king. This is antithetical to the liberal attitude toward 
education (or the liberal attitude in general). It’s amazing how little we are taught about 
Horace Mann, considering the impact he had on education. I do not here propose a plan 
to introduce the Trivium into modem schooling, but I do think it worth raising the 
question, ”Is school completely necessary anymore?” 

In this essay I provide you with over twenty study skills, many of which can be 
used right away. Taken together, these skills will develop within you the means to 
conquer any knowledge and leam any subject. Most say you should start by learning the 
Trivium subjects first — I don’t. People want to get into the method but they don’t know 
where to start, and they’re not ready to jump into the deep end first. What they need is a 
helping hand to show them a few moves before they swim off on their own, and this 
essay is that helping hand. 

In his book, A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, James V. Schall, S.J. writes: 

“The learning that is here described is called “liberal,” that is, freeing. 
It takes a lot of work to be free. Yet, we need some way to become 
what we are. No one can do this for us, but we cannot do it merely 
by ourselves either. We need guides to find guides. Something that 
Aristotle once said should be reiterated here; namely, that many 
people who do not know books are nevertheless very wise, often 
wiser than the so-called learned. Perhaps it will be our grandfather or 
an ordinary farmer or worker. We should look for and respect the 
experience of ordinary people. Wherever there is a mind and reality, 
someone can find the truth. This in no way lessens our drive to know 
more completely and to seek the guidance of good books, good 
teachers, good parents, good libraries, good friends.” 

This essay is a guide to find guides. It cuts right to the heart of the matter: how do 
I apply the Trivium Method today? There is enough information here to give you some 


understanding of the whole territory. I’ve provided you with a very good map, but don’t 
think that I’m taking all of the hard work out of this. I’m not taking the journey for you. 
If you want to get anything out of this instruction, you have to put in the hard work. 

The point is to learn how to become self-taught. 

Another point I’d like to comment on from that quote above is the concept of this 
education being “freeing.” The word liberal itself means, “ befitting a free person and 
this is an important distinction since history is full of stories about the mass of people 
being in one fonn of slavery or another. Ancient Rome built its society on slavery, with 
the free citizens being the ones that 

received the liberal education. SCHOOL IS NOT 

Nowadays people talk about being EDUCATION. 

“wage slaves,” just capable enough to EDUCATION BEGINS 

hold jobs that barely pay the bills, but WHEN SCHOOL ENDS. 

never able to rise above their low 

economic conditions and live with MORTIMER J ADLER 

some modest wealth. Debt slave is 

another one I’ve seen before. Debt slave holds especially true for the millions of college 
students that took out student loans thinking that they would be able to pay them off 
easily, only to graduate into a slow job market with enough debt to buy a small home 
with. Where’s the freedom in that? The irony is, most colleges bill themselves as liberal 
arts schools. There’s something inherently wrong in that. An education that keeps you 
enslaved economically is not one that frees you. I call bullshit. 

I am not an academic or someone that is trying to write for academics. A few 
years ago I found out about the Trivium and decided it was worth learning. In some of 
my spare time over the years I’ve begun collecting my thoughts on this method and ways 
to present it better. By being in touch with other people looking into the same thing I 
realized that there was a lack of beginner’s material out there. So, I decided it was best to 
focus on writing something for the average, everyday people that happen to stumble upon 
this path. This essay is a good start for me, and each skill listed will become fleshed out 


in more detail as my own learning progresses. If there’s anything this essay lacks it’s in 
examples, and there will certainly be many more of those in the versions to come. 

Since I’m writing for a wide audience you won’t find any citations, there will 
probably be some grammatical errors, loose language, and even false assertions, and I’m 
going to assume that you will follow up this essay with research of your own. My 
mission is not to write at the level of the professor, but at the level of the person next 
door. Whether or not I accomplish this task, only time and a few honest emails will 
tell. Consider this essay a citizen’s project, a layman’s effort, and not a professional 
work. I will work towards writing things at the academic level in the future but for now 
we need something a little simpler. 

The best way to use this guide is to read it once or twice, making notes as you go 
along. After getting familiar with the whole piece and the basic concepts, take a few 
skills and use them right away. It’s really not even studying that you’re doing, it’s 
practice. I want you to get in some practice. Put in half an hour each night, or a couple 
hours on the weekend. If I do my job well in explaining things to you, and you do your 
job well in applying what you’ve learned, then after some time you will be ready to 
tackle any subject you want to learn, all on your own. 


MAY 21, 2014 




— Anonymous 

They say it's best to start a piece of writing with a good quote. I seem to have 
misplaced the one quote that I wanted to start this essay with, so you'll have to excuse me 
as I'm still an amateur in the field of educational writing. If I would have found the quote 
that I had meant to show you, you would probably have some sense of interest in the 
words that follow, and most likely because the quote had something to do with solving 
difficult problems easily, or the truth that every man and woman is a genius, whether they 
know it or not. 

Had you read that quote you might be thinking that there's something in this 
writing that you're looking for — maybe a simple answer, a shortcut, a key. If only I 
could find that quote!!! To be honest, I'm not even sure if the quote was attributed to 
the right person or not. You know how the Internet is, so full of misinformation and false 
attributions; it could have been Henry Ford that was quoted but Abe Lincoln that said it! 
Ahh! So much for the big opener. . . 

Can we just assume that you read the quote? That you feel some sort of 
inspiration or expectation of enlightenment? And that you're ready to follow these words 
wherever they lead. . .? 

Ok, good. 

I want to go into new territory with you. 

New places that offer special rewards— 

valuable treasures recognized in every land. 

It was in late 2009 that I first discovered the educational paradigm of the Trivium, 
and since that time I have spent numerous unpaid hours digging and researching and 
uncovering many artifacts of this amazing learning path. What I've found continues to 
amaze me. I was looking for a way to improve my mind and to “get smart,” without 
having to get a college degree, but I had no idea just how much I would uncover in my 

There have been those that believed the Trivium should be kept to an elite few, 
with an emphasis on class division and corporate leadership, and also those that believe it 
should be taught with an emphasis on religious authority. But I didn’t spend countless 
hours reading through endless texts on ancient pedagogical methods just to be told that 
you're not rich enough, or obedient enough, to receive the teachings. 

Some of the texts that I have read were so dry they should have been handed out 
with a glass of water. Despite the chore of absorbing so much material and having no 
idea where my studies would lead to, I carried on. Whenever I wanted to give up, my 
intuition told me that the reward would be worth the effort. My intuition served me well, 
and the rewards have been greater than all the hard work. A new world opened up to me. 
A new relationship with my mind emerged. I learned that I could conquer any challenge 
and learn any subject or skill, regardless of the difficulty or how smart or stupid I thought 
I was. I discovered a secret of the ancients, possessed by so many of history's greatest 
minds, and I should hold this back from you? 

I say: Can’t we bend the rules a bit? Just this once. . .? 



Whoever you are that is reading this, you most likely arrived here in search of 
something you have heard about. Either from a podcast interview, a YouTube video, or a 
random book find at Barnes & Noble, something made you curious enough to bring you 
here. Maybe it was talked about as some sort of secret trick that makes you smarter than 
everyone else, or an educational model that is the best one in the whole world, giving you 
a Harvard education in the comfort of your own home. Or maybe, just maybe, you're like 
I was and you felt that there's something deeper to this subject than a short interview or 
video could possibly cover, and you want to know more. 

Whatever your reason is, you're here to learn. 

More specifically, you're here to learn how to learn. 


When I first found out about the Trivium, my mind was a mess. My thoughts had 
become disorganized and chaotic, causing my memory to become deficient and my 
thought processes to be sluggish. Memory recall atrophied, vocabulary dwindled, and to 
use the language of computers my “processing speed” had become greatly reduced. I 
grew up always being one of the “smart kids” in school, known for acing tests with little 
study, and there I was, unable to maintain focus long enough to read a challenging book, 
or easily forgetting what I was saying in conversations, and noticing a stark reduction in 
my ability to problem solve. How did this happen? 

I can trace it back to one specific day in high school. 

While many of my friends in high school enjoyed skipping class to go fulfill their 
hedonistic impulses, one day I decided to do something a little different: I was going to 
sneak into the school library. As dorky as that sounds, I had a real purpose. My teacher 
for Senior honors English had us reading a fictional book in which the character, an 
above-average intellectual teenager, ended up reading through the works of Thomas 
Aquinas. There were few in my graduating class that enjoyed words as much as I did, and 
so reading about this teenaged character tackling some of the most complicated and well- 
written books in history was inspiring. I’d always felt that I should be reading the “Great 
Books” but didn’t really know where and how to start. So I decided to ditch class one day 
and sneak my way into the library (you needed a “pass” signed by a teacher to be in the 
library). Heading to a table near the reference section, I picked out a few titles from the 
Great Books of the Western World series produced by Hutchins and Adler. Plato, 
Aquinas, and Descartes, I believe, were the ones that I picked. For the better part of a few 
class periods I sat in front of those books, looking deeply into them and trying to 
comprehend what I read there. By the end of it, not only did I have a headache but I had 
come to two conclusions: 

1 . I did NOT understand what I was reading and thought that it was 
way beyond my reading level, and even if I WERE to read any of 
those books well enough to understand what was written there, I 
realized that it would take me about an entire year at the rate I was 

2. Even if I took up the task and plowed through one of Plato's books 
for six months, I'd still have dozens more books to get through, of 
the same difficulty level, before I could even say I was “educated.” 

Needless to say, I was crushed. There I was, at the edge of my peer group, too 
smart to play dumb and too dumb to play smart. I was caught in a no-man’s-land of the 
mind; I gave up. From that day on I had no real interest in pursuing the intellectual 
potential within me. It just didn't seem worth working two or three decades just to feel 
like I'd arrived somewhere that most people have no interest in anyway. It was ten years 
later and a lot of mental degeneration before I decided that enough was enough, and I 
began to take responsibility for my mind. No later than a week after I’d set this intention 
within myself, I came across the Trivium. 


In October of 2009, 1 listened to a podcast episode on the subject of the Trivium, 
in which the guest began to lay out the fundamentals of what is now known as the 
Trivium Method. The interview (put into three parts) covered a wide variety of subjects 
relevant to the show, but the over-arching theme seemed to be: there is a better way to 
educate yourself, it's not widely known about but it has historical roots, and it is there 
for your discovery. Immediately I intuited that whatever this Trivium thing was, it was 
just what I was looking for. 

A week before, when I had set my intention to clean up the attic of my mind, I 
had planned to use a particular method of reading that I had come across once somewhere 
on the internet. The method went something like this: read a book, one chapter at a time, 
and before continuing on to the next chapter, review in reverse the chapter(s) you have 
already read. So after reading chapter one you review it and make sure you understand 
the main points, then you read chapter two. Before reading chapter three you review 
chapter two, then chapter one, and so on like this until you've finished the book. Not a 
bad way to really get to understand something. I was content to stick with that method, 
and still to this day find it a solid, simple approach to reading, but something in the 
Trivium material made me consider expanding my studies into this new field called the 
Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

The Liberal Arts and Sciences are a grouping of seven subjects: The 
Trivium, consisting of the three subjects Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, and the 
Quadrivium, consisting of the four subjects of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and 
Astronomy. The Trivium (Arts) deal with the Mind, and the Quadrivium (Sciences) with 
Matter. This group of seven subjects, as well as numerous variations containing more or 
less subjects, has origins in Ancient Hindu and Greek cultures, and it was revived in the 
Roman era, and once again during the Middle Ages, each time forming in a way peculiar 
to the time and place. 

Not only was the Trivium presented as a historical grouping of subjects, it was an actual 
method for learning called, the Integrated Trivium. 


The Integrated Trivium incorporates all of the 
knowledge of the three subjects and combines 
them with a three-part metaphor for the 
learning process in which Grammar, Logic, 
and Rhetoric (in that order ) symbolize the 
natural mental processes of absorbing 
information, organizing information, and 
communicating information. Grammar 
asks the Who, What, Where, and When. Logic 
answers the Why, and Rhetoric provides the 

Qui docei, discii 

He who teaches , learns. 

—Joseph Lancaster 

The theory goes that the three Trivium subjects emerged as a result of our minds 
handling infonnation in this way. Just as we leam the basics of a language through 
exposure to General Grammar, when we absorb new information about a subject, skill, or 
situation, we start to form in our minds the “grammar.” Just as we learn to discern 
between truth and falsehood in Formal Logic, we obtain the “logic” of something as we 
begin making sense of the incoming data and connect it with other previous knowledge. 
And just as we learn the persuasive arts in Classical Rhetoric— those skills necessary to 
communicate to an audience or listener effectively— we grasp the “rhetoric” of a thing 
when we are able to discuss it and even teach it to someone else. While the literal 
subjects emerged as a result of this three-part mental process, the skills they provide 
actually enhance and support the process, creating a dynamic relationship between skills 
and method. 

While I didn’t have an immediate grasp of the subject, I did have confidence that 
if I just applied myself to learning this approach, to learning these subjects and this 
method, then all of my intellectual troubles could be dealt with and I could plumb the 
depths of my mental potential without being intimidated or giving up. I was right to have 
such confidence. I did find what I was looking for— that thing that I always knew existed, 
even though I never knew what it was. 


Imagine something for a moment: You’re sitting at the computer 

writing a paper for class, or an email to a friend, or even a funny Facebook update. Once 
you know what it is you want to say, your fingers hit the keys, and those keys signal little 
electronic impulses that get sent into the computer. This is the Grammar. 

Next, those electronic impulses make their way into the computer processor 
where it is made sense of. All of those ones and zeros are translated and organized. 
Basically, your computer “figures out” what it is supposed to do. This is the Logic. 

Then, your computer displays on the screen the appropriate symbols given the 
specific keys you hit. All of those ones and zeros become numbers and letters. 

Sentences begin forming on the page. Your ideas, in the fonn of information, went 
through a process of encoding and decoding, transferring the knowledge from one place 
(your mind) to another (the computer screen). This is the Rhetoric. 

Another way to say it is that this is your Input, Processing, and Output. The 
computer analogy demonstrates the very basic idea behind the Trivium Method. While 
our minds are not linear like a computer processor, we go through similar functions of 
manipulating information and re-communicating what we know. I first encountered this 
notion of a three-part process in Antero Alli’s book Angel Tech, in which he describes the 
three functions of Intelligence as being to Absorb, Organize, and Communicate. I find 
those tenns more suitable to the functions of the mind than computer terms, so I will 
continue to use them primarily throughout this text. But anywhere you see those terms 
written they could be replaced with any other of these sets terms: 




Before going on to the meaty part of this essay which covers the Trivium skills, I 
want to address some disagreements with liberal arts education that have been raised over 
the past few years. Essentially I can boil down these arguments into three categories: 
Elitist, Religious, and Snobbish. 

The Elitist argument goes something like this: a proper liberal education should 
only be left in the hands of people that come from a certain social and economic 
background, facilitating the distinction between a type of “managerial class” and a 
“worker's class.” Numerous historical documents show that this is true. While I have not 
spent much time researching this aspect of the Trivium history, a simple internet search 
will provide leads for the curious. 

There is no moral code that is guaranteed with the Trivium. By keeping this 
education in the hands of the elites and away from the common folk, a great treasure has 
been deprived from the very people that need to be uplifted by it the most. What is left 
out of education is sometimes more important than what is included! Even providing “the 
People” with some parts of a liberal education is not enough, for what good is a citizenry 
that can reason well and use poetic language but that cannot engage in civic duties 
effectively? Providing the semblance of education without the tools of social construction 
gives one only the illusion of education. 


The Religious argument is not so much against people obtaining a liberal arts 
education, it is against people obtaining it outside of the realm of religious authority. 


Even Dorothy Sayers, author of the essay the Lost Tools of Learning and someone I've 
taken many great ideas from, described the Trivium best as being subordinate to 
Theology. Another argument that usually comes from the religious camp is that the 
Trivium leads away from the Spiritual and towards the Materialistic, when not guided by 
theological or spiritual doctrine. 

Never have I had any issue with someone holding their faith dearly, but what I do 
disagree with is that this education should be kept within the realm of faith. Primarily I 
think this way because not everyone holds the same beliefs. I rarely discuss my 
own spiritual and religious beliefs in public, but I do know for sure that I cannot honestly 
tell someone else that theirs is wrong and mine is right. It just can't be done in good 
conscience. The whole structure of religion is based first upon an understanding of faith, 
and from there you can deduce all sorts of religious logic— which is only valid based 
upon its own premises of faith. And to go even further, some people hold no religious or 
spiritual belief whatsoever and decide instead to base their understandings on empirical 
and/or measurable evidence. To base logical conclusions upon premises of evidence and 
premises of faith are two completely different modes of knowledge, and so much 
disagreement and upset comes from people's inability to realize this fact. 

The other argument, that the Trivium unhinged from a spiritual dogma will lead to 
materialism, is not necessarily true. For those that choose to believe only in the material, 
it is only a moment of faith that can change their mind. For someone that chooses to 
believe in something beyond the physical, the Trivium does not preclude one from doing 
so. The Trivium aids the student in discerning truth from falsehood, and however it is 
applied is up to the student entirely. There are no guarantees of ultimate Truth here, is 
what I'm saying. To each their own but, be better for the world by your studies, I say. 



The Snobbish argument is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek term. By this I mean that 
there are those that say that the Trivium (and by extension the Quadrivium) is not a 
complete education for an individual, or that the Trivium only supplies one with an 
aesthetic appreciation of the Arts and Literature, and little more than that. I agree on the 
first point and disagree on the second. 

The Trivium is certainly not a complete education for an individual. What it 
provides the intellectual muscle so highly needed in society, but it does nothing for the 
emotional and physical education of that individual. To address this discrepancy I've 
included some sections on emotional and physical development as necessary components 
of a well-rounded education. The Trivium does provide a full set of critical thinking 
tools, and this provides you with the ability to discern fact from fallacy. 

The appreciation of art in it’s various forms is a gift awarded to our species alone, 
and it is true that the study of the liberal arts, in particular, will expose a person to this 
deep aspect of culture. To say that this gift is the only reward of the liberal arts is to miss 
what is most valuable about them. These Arts provide the student/seeker with the 
freedom to be comfortable in the face of Uncertainty. The courage to navigate the chaos 
of the Unknown. To question that which is often accepted without thought. The ability 
to find one’s bearings in all situations and, hopefully, develop a sense of what is “Right 
Action” in each moment. In this way, we can speak of these as the Liberating Arts. 

The Trivium method provides one with critical thinking skills as well as learning 
and study skills — life skills. This is about uplifting your mind and improving not only 
the world inside of you, but the world around you as well. 



Part II: The Skills 




ABSORB. This is where it all begins. You’re absorbing as much infonnation as you 
can about a subject, a skill, or a situation. Get familiar. Don’t try to understand 
everything. Just become familiar with what you encounter. Form new maps. Universal 
outlines emerge. You begin to detect patterns. See a bigger picture. Here you encounter 
the raw material that your mind uses to construct an Understanding. Be discerning in 

your choice of materials. 









ORGANIZE. This is where things get un-messy. You have a wealth of 
information, now sort through it all. Make sense. Eliminate contradictions. New 
words jump out at you, asking for definition. Bring Order to Chaos. Light to the 
Darkness. Most of your time will be spent here. Logic is based on premises which 
lead to conclusions. Conclusions lead to either certainty or probability. You have to 
have a reason for accepting a conclusion. False premises breed false conclusions. Be 
careful. Leam to detect BS. Question everything, nothing is off-limits. 










COMMUNICATE. Rhetoric is communication. Aristotle called it the available means 
of persuasion. Almost everything we communicate, we want to be believed. We want to 
persuade. To entertain. To instruct. The best way to learn is to teach. It’s not enough to 
simply understand. We’ve created a structure, and now we’ve got to deliver it. Even a 
single word or a gesture can communicate meaning. Everything around us is context. 
Who are we speaking to? We must choose our words wisely. Always be on the look out 

for the right words at the right moment. 










Keep in mind that these skills are not meant to be learned all at once, or 
understood immediately. They are skills. They take time to develop. You have to use 
them — to practice. Nobody gets this stuff overnight and you can always be refining your 
technique, no matter what your skill level is. 

Do not be discouraged by what lies ahead of you. Instead, realize that the way to 
greatness has never been through gimmicks or tricks, but through hard work applied 
consistently over long periods of time. I’ve made the task a little bit easier for you, but 

the work is yours and yours alone. They say it takes thirty days to form a new habit, but 

it takes six months to change the brain. That six month point is where you really start 
making connections and things get interesting. 


“Preparation for tomorrow is hard work today.” 
—Bruce Lee 

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” 

—Henry Ford 



The building blocks. 


When going mountain climbing, you do not reach the top of the mountain in one 
move. You begin by taking a small step, followed by another, and another, and so on 
until eventually you reach the summit. What starts off as a daunting task is accomplished 
through the simplest of means — taking small steps. 

Deconstruction is a similar thing. Whatever the problem is that you’re working 
on, no matter how challenging or difficult, if you just break it down into smaller parts 
then the whole thing becomes more manageable. This is the secret to getting big projects 

Think of a child exploring a new toy robot. Tinkering with it, seeing what makes 
its parts move, what holds it together, can it be fixed once it’s broken? The child is very 
innocent and knows little or nothing about toy robots, it lets curiosity be the guide in 
discovering just what this thing is. You want to be like that child. You cannot assume 
you know much of anything about your subject as you turn it over, inspect it, consider the 
various parts, etc. Don’t be influenced in your exploration by outside sources. 

When starting with a big subject, seek the big picture first to get a general sense 
of the territory, and then work towards identifying the smaller pieces. Break it down 
until you get to pieces small enough for you to deal with head-on, developing your 
reservoir of understanding, and then build from the ground up. Connect pieces together 
like a puzzle. The “ For Dummies ” learning series are great books for learning the basics 
of a subject and identifying the smaller moving parts. 

I’d come to see Deconstruction as a necessary tool early on but I didn’t have a 
tenn for it until I read Tim Ferriss’ book, 4-Hour Chef. He has a few of his own 
suggestions for Deconstruction (Reducing, Interviewing, Reversal, Translation) but his 
idea to Interview an expert is on point. Someone that has already excelled in the thing 
that you’re learning will be a great resource for you. They can give you information that 
is the most helpful for you, considering your interest in the topic 


Let me give you an example of Deconstruction from my children’s messy 
bedroom. One day my kids told me that they like to keep their room messy. Being a 
curios and agreeable father I allowed them to keep their room messy for a while. I think 
they just liked the chaos, the untidy aesthetic. Unfortunately for them, after about a 
month or two of this, I decided enough was enough and told them that it was time to 
clean up. They moaned and groaned but they agreed that it was getting to be a bit too 
messy and that it should be cleaned up — but only on the condition that I help. I’ve 
trained them well. . . 

I decided to make it an object lesson. I was going to teach them how to organize 
chaos. So we sorted the mess into little piles of toys according to their likeness. We had 
a pile for vehicles, for figurines, for Legos, and so on. After about twenty minutes we 
had everything sorted out into little piles, and then we put everything in its right place. It 
was an easy way to demonstrate the skill of deconstruction, in a non-studying 
environment, and they also got some experience with the important habit of noticing the 
similarities and differences in things (see: Topics of Invention). We could have started in 
one corner of the room and put everything away as we went along, but it would have 
taken much longer. By breaking the job down into smaller parts we got it done quickly 
and easily. 



Whenever you find yourself in a learning situation, you should be taking notes. 
This applies the most to book learning, but even when you start a new job you can leam 
so much better by taking notes. This is one of the most valuable skills you could ever 
develop. Taking notes helps you to begin collecting and start organizing knowledge. 

Write in your books. I was always thought it was wrong to write in my 

books but now I think the opposite is true. Own your book. The best way to really get in 
touch with it is to write your notes inside of it. True story. 

Mortimer Adler called it Active Reading when taking notes while reading- 
stopping to underline unknown words, jotting down sudden thoughts that arise while 
reading, making comments about the ideas, etc. He called it Active Listening when 
taking notes while someone was speaking. The tenn “Active” distinguishes your activity 
from the term “Passive”, which is how most of us have learned to absorb infonnation. 
Passively. Not questioning things much. Not engaging with the material. Just blah. 

All of that is behind you now. From now on you’re going to underline 
things, circle things, make little marks and symbols, jot down questions and comments, 
and otherwise OWN the very thing that you are studying! Note taking doesn’t have to be 
boring, either. You can, and should, make it very visual. 

When I’m not writing in a book, I have a piece of paper with me, and you’ll see in 
my notes varying sizes in writing, key terms outlined or boxed-in, little pictures, arrows, 
exclamations, highlighting, and any kind of distinguishable writing that helps me to 
organize the information without having to look at rows of just words. Get creative. 

Look into things like Learning Maps, Cognitive Maps, and Adler’s Annotation for more 

Another aspect on note taking that is more hidden but no less important, is the 
way in which this skill helps your brain to form more organized neural connections. By 
using notes as a way to make sense of the information, your brain has less work to do in 

making connections and finding a place for all of this new stuff to go. That’s smart. 



How many times have you been up late, cramming for a test the next day? We’ve 
all been there. Even though I was always a good test taker, I still had my moments of 
frustration when I was just hours from a test and didn’t understand a key concept. 

Luckily, I mostly studied in smaller chu nk s of time in the weeks leading up to a test. You 
see, I was lazy, so I learned each section as it was covered in class, doing only enough 
work to understand the material. When it was time for a test, I aced most subjects 
without putting as much effort in as the other students. 

It turns out my “laziness” has some scientific backing. It’s called the Spacing 
Effect. To borrow from Wikipedia: “the spacing effect is the phenomenon whereby 
animals (including humans) more easily remember or learn items when they are studied a 
few times spaced over a long time span rather than repeatedly studied in a short span of 
time. “ 

In other words, don’t try and learn everything all at once. The brain responds 
well when it is given large chu nk s of information followed by an appropriate time to 
organize it all. 

In his 4-Hour Chef, Tim Ferriss talks about the serial position effect, which shows 
how the learning process is slowest in the middle of a long session, but not the beginning 
and end. Basically what this means is that in a ninety-minute study session, memory 
retention dips around the halfway point. But if you break up the session into two forty- 
five minute segments with a ten-minute break in between, retention goes up dramatically. 
So even if you see dips in learning at the halfway point in a forty-five minute session, it 
will still not be as bad as doing a full ninety-minute session all at once. 

Research shows that cramming has good results in the short-term, which 
means that it works to help you remember the information but not for very long. If 
you’re learning something you want to really know, use Spaced Repetition exclusively, 
but if you have a test the next day then cramming will also come to your aid. 




Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything you want to leam, any skill or subject, 
has a history. By looking into the history of a thing we may gain greater insight into 
exactly what it is, what it is for, and what it might be in the future. 

A friend told me a story once. He was tutoring a teenager that wanted to learn 
Calculus. My friend’s advice was simple: seek the history of calculus first. Within a few 
months the teenager had gone on and studied Calculus, starting with the history, and was 
able to take the equivalency exams at a community college. By knowing the history the 
student had a better understanding of the subject. 

What led to its origin? What historical, social, scientific and other context(s) did 
it arise in? Who are some of the leading figures? How has it evolved over time? What is 
its relevance today? 




In his video presentation, How To Read A Book, Mortimer Adler instructs us early 
on to distinguish the type of book we’re reading. Is it for fun? Is it instructive? Is it 
informative? It’s very important for us to know what kind of information we’re taking in 
to insure the best outcome in our learning. 

When encountering information that is meant to teach us about a subject, we 
should first ask if we’re dealing with what is called a “primary source.” Primary sources 
are original materials, unaltered by outside interpretation or translation. Seek primary 
sources whenever possible, although the older a text or topic is, the more difficult this 
may become. Most of the Great Books were written in languages other than English, and 
so have been translated many times in order for us to gain from their wisdom. For some 
students, the primary source written in its original language is the only thing that will 
suffice. For others, a very good translation will do. Sometimes it is fruitful to compare 
translations, as not all are created equally. 

Primary sources are crucial in studying history. For example, American public 
schools teach how Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered his 
friends, the Native Americans. This is taught by teachers that are not using primary 
sources, and the true history paints a much different, and much less friendly, picture than 
the whitewash that schooling provides. Primary sources give a more accurate depiction 
of events than heavily biased (even fraudulent!) government schooling ever will. 

If you’re reading specifically to uplift and strengthen the mind, Plato, Aristotle, or 
anything of that caliber will do. These you will take time on and read numerous times. 
The learning skills here will enable you to handle even those high-level books. 




What you’re looking for in Selection are the things that are most important to 
leam first. Seek the essentials. When you strip something down to its core, what are you 
left with? What do you have to have in order to know this thing? When beginning to 
study Geometry, you don’t attempt to learn it all at once. You deconstruct and work your 
way up. Selection reminds us to choose wisely which pieces to learn first, and which can 
wait for later on. It may not always be easy finding that 20% but now you know to look 
for it, and always remember to contact the professionals to help with your direction. 

In the early 1900’s, Italian economist Alfredo Pareto discovered that 20% of his 
pods contained 80% of his peas. Starting from there he later realized that 80% of the land 
was owned by only 20% of the population. Others have explored this work in other 
fields and have expanded the concept into what is now called the 80/20 Principle. 

A good way of putting it is this: when learning something new, what is the 20% 
of activity or understanding that will give you 80% of the results you’re looking for? 
You’re trying to learn Astrophysics but do you need to know every single thing about it? 
Or can you focus your studies like a laser on the 20% of knowledge that is the most 

In kung fu there are certain basic movements and body mechanics that apply to all 
of the most advanced moves. First leam the basics, the universal, must-have knowledge, 
and then you will be ready to receive the advanced teachings. More than that, by learning 
the basic moves you are learning to streamline your attack, and to use the least amount of 
bodily energy to inflict the most amount of damage. Watch an old tai chi master pushing 
hands with a student; when that student flies back ten feet from the smallest movement of 
the master, there is a reason why. 




I’ve tried writing this section a few times but I keep getting distracted. First it 
was my phone making noises. I posted something on Facebook today and I’m getting 
notifications about people’s comments. Gotta check those. Then, my girlfriend was 
home from work and struck up a conversation. Then I thought, “maybe I’ve been sitting 
too long and should workout for a little bit,” and then shortly after that, I got a little 
hungry so I made a snack. There goes my phone again, I’m up to 36 likes! Ugh. . .what 
was that one thing I wanted to Google yesterday? Something about tire pressure in the 
summer? Wait, no, that was something else, but I want to see what kind of deals they 
have at Goodyear right now. I hear Spring is a good time to buy tires! Ok, now I’m 
ready to write this thing. I think. Text message beep! Yes, I’m totally down to go out 
tonight — I NEED A DRINK! I’ve been working hard today. Let’s see who else wants to 
come out tonight. I hate when people don’t reply right away because sometimes you start 
doing something else and th — oh, she got back to me! It’s on! We’re closing the bar 
tonight, baby! Hmmm, I should probably do laundry real quick, I can’t wear these 
sweatpants out! Oh man, I’m getting hungry again, /or real. I’ll just cook a pizza. OH 
MY GOD! There’s that screwdriver I was looking for yesterday! The one I was looking 
for when I was trying to fix the toy I broke when I was messing around after lunch when 
I was supposed. . . to be. . . writing. . . about Concentration. 

Concentration is absolutely essential to learning. Without it, literally nothing gets 
done. Well at least not anything you’re intending to get done. You might check thirteen 
emails, draft your will, iron a shirt and take the dog for a walk, but you didn’t sit down 
and read that book or write that paper. You sure as shit didn’t meet your goals for the 
day. There are many things out there to help you leam to concentrate, one comes from 
Rev. Opitz who said that you must sit down to read, and whenever you find your mind 
wandering, “grab it by the scruff of it’s neck” and bring it back to the page. It works. 

My own personal suggestion is to study Tai Chi (preferably Chen style) as it requires 
mental AND physical concentration unlike anything else I’ve encountered. 




These are not those. 


The basic function of Logic in the Trivium Method is Organization, and to 
organize we must make distinctions. We must separate things according to their likeness. 
We weigh things against each other and eliminate the contradictions. We make sense. 
Human beings are sometimes referred to as the “rational animal,” and rational comes 
from the word ratio, which is a mathematical distinction between two integers. It’s a 
way of telling things apart, or of saying, “ These are not those.'" 

One of the discoveries I made when first researching the Trivium is that the 
“secret society” of the Freemasons uses the liberal arts and sciences in their initiation 
system. Knowing nothing about the organization other than internet conspiracy theory 
(Illuminati, Bilderberg, reptilian overlords, etc.), I followed my curiosity and sought out 
the context in which they taught these things. Separated into three degrees, the Blue 
Lodge of Freemasonry begins by guiding the member to focus on personal development 
of character and virtue in the first degree (I will be covering this a little bit more later on 
in the section on emotional development). After providing the tools for developing 
character the member goes on to the second degree, where the major focus is on the 
Trivium and Quadrivium. Their third degree focuses more on spiritual contemplation and 

So first they instruct the member to work on their emotions, then on their mind, 
and then finally on that which is considered spiritual. They do all of this through ritual 
utilizing symbols, metaphor, and allegory. 

One symbol in particular is important to be aware of: the Threshing Floor. 

Without going into details about the biblical source from which this symbol is derived, 
the Threshing Floor is a checkered floor, composed of black and white tyles, and it is 
there that the process of winnowing, of separating the wheat from the chaff, is 
accomplished. This symbol is described in various ways by numerous authors, but my 
own personal understanding of it is as a representation of the human function of 
discernment. Of knowing one thing from another. The black and white squares are a 
universal symbol for this process of discernment. And then you have the activity of 
winnowing itself, yet another way to understand the human function of rationality. 


Masons often understand this process of winnowing to represent the activity of ridding 
oneself of the superfluities and vices within them, of separating the important from the 
unimportant, the essential from the inessential. 

It is said that Solomon’s Temple was built upon the Threshing Floor. The Temple 
is, to my understanding, a symbol for the developed human mind and soul (mental and 
emotional selves). So the great temple of the inner life, the house not built by hands, 
rests upon a foundation of discernment, of rationality, of logic. The Masons take it upon 
themselves to see themselves as Builders of this structure, and their educational efforts 
are geared directly towards this activity. 

For more information on this see the works of Dr. John Nagy (in particular 
the books Building Athens and Building Boaz). 



When reading a book or listening to a speech or a lecture, our most important task 
is to find out what it is the author or speaker is trying to say. What is their point or 
points? With a book you have more time to go through each sentence, piece together the 
ones that really seem to support each other, and discover the argument that way. In a live 
setting it can be more difficult, but it is required of us nonetheless. 

What truth is there to the statements? Does the argument rest upon false 
premises? What problems does the author attempt to solve? Which ones were solved, 
which ones not? Is the author missing key information? Have they missed important 
questions relevant to the subject? Is their argument concealed, improved, or diminished 
by persuasive elements? Do their statements make their point by cause and effect? Are 
they unfounded? 

When you’re the author you have to find your own argument. You have to know 
what it is you want to say, and how you’re going to say it. You have the choice to make 
your audience work for understanding or to lay everything out clearly and cleanly. 
Mortimer Adler’s How To Read A Book is a great resource for more understanding in 
this way, and for the student an ACT/SAT prep book on Reading will show you the 
guidelines that test makers are looking for. Also, the “argument” in math is much 
different then the arguments in the humanities, and they require much more 
straightforward logical skills. Although much less beautiful to the ear, the “arguments” 
of Euclid are arguments nonetheless and they require of us utmost diligence in their 




Which witch is which? When having a conversation or learning something new, 
there are bound to be words that carry very specific meanings. Find out what those are. 
If you don’t know the definitions of the words (the terms) then you really can’t begin to 
understand what is being said. How does Shakespeare’s definition of Love differ from 
Voltaire’s? What did Sally really mean when she said, “It’s fine, just go without me?” 

Often times you can learn the definition of a term by consulting a common 
dictionary. This doesn’t work in every situation, though, such as in law practice where 
seemingly common terms have very different, and specific, meanings (see Black’s Law 
Dictionary). Other times you have to work hard to understand what a tenn means. 

Again, you can’t really know what’s being said if you don’t know how the terms are 
defined. One mans “economic development” might be another mans “losing my home 
because the rich man wants to put a shopping mall here.” Labor means one thing to the 
Capitalist, and another to the Tyrant. 

When learning a new subject, such as Algebra 2, you’ll come across new words 
that seem foreign to you. Always-always-always underline those terms and work hard at 
figuring out what they mean. What context are they used in? Do they have limited, 
alternative, or provisional meanings? Can the same tenn be used in different ways? 

Leave no term undefined. 

Assiduous. Plenitude. Sagacity. People see “big words” like those, get turned 
off, and give up trying. They feel dumb because they haven’t expanded their vocabulary 
that far. Some people are just good with words, they say. If you ever find yourself in 
that category I want to tell you right now, once and for all, that that is bullshit! YOU 
can leam any of the hardest words in the world. 

It’s easy once you leam the definition (the concepts underlying the word) and, if 
still confused, leam definitions for the conceptual words that build up to it. Look at the 
history of the word’s usage. See what context it is used in most appropriately. Work- 
work-work until you can use the word in a conversation, and then do it. 




The methods of deductive and inductive reasoning are too lengthy to reproduce in this 
essay, but it is important to give some general sense of their nature here. 

Deductive reasoning relates to what is known as top-down thinking. Starting from 
basic, general principles and working towards specific instances. Deduction focuses 
upon the relationship of premises to conclusion. If the premises are true, terms are clear, 
and rules of deduction are applied, then the conclusion must be valid. In deduction, 

we’re seeking to arrive at certainty. 

Example'. All cars require tires to drive. John’s car has no tires. Therefore, John’s 

car will not drive. 

Inductive reasoning relates to bottom-up thinking. Starting with specific instances 
we can begin to form some sort of general principles. While still using the tools of 
premises and conclusion, inductive reasoning hopes to arrive at probable truths. By 
taking the available information, induction can only say what seems to be true, as 
opposed to what must be true. Induction leaves room for the possibility that the 
conclusion can be false even though the premises are true. 

Example : Most people hate the smell of skunk spray. Jenny is a person. Therefore, 
Jenny probably hates the smell of skunk spray. 

Practice with Deductive and Inductive reasoning sharpens the mind by 
showing us the forms of arguments and exposing logical short circuits. 



Ad Homineml Slippery Slope\ Appeal to Authority\ Such are the exclamations of 
those that spot a fallacy in a book or conversation. When you learn the fallacies, you start 
to see them everywhere: magazines, books, advertisements, political speeches, even 
internet forums (-rolls eyes-). Heck, even my grandma spotted one the other day. 

They’re everywhere! There might even be a few fallacies underneath your bed, or in 
your closet. I hope you check before you go to sleep tonight. One can never be too 
careful, logical fallacies abound. . . 

A list of the fallacies as well as the distinction between Formal and Informal 
fallacies are outside of the scope of this essay, but any book on logic will cover them in 
detail. There are a common 20 or so informal fallacies that one would be better for 
having memorized. Some people even make a game of spotting fallacies, and calling 
them aloud, when watching things like presidential debates or television commercials. 

Fun for the whole family. 

Logical fallacies arise from one of two options: either from outright deception or 
just simple ignorance. The mere presence of a fallacy does not imply either origin— it is 
up to the audience to determine if the fallacy was committed maliciously or not. The 
presence of a fallacy does not have any bearing on the truth values of the premises or 
conclusions, it just means that some flaws in reasoning have occurred and so clarification 
must be made. 

Some find it wise to avoid calling out the names of fallacies, instead addressing 
the underlying flaw in reasoning, while others decide it best to simply call out the name 
of the fallacy committed and assume amends will be made. Or maybe they’re just 
looking to score points. Whatever the case may be, and the tactic used to deal with them, 
logical fallacies are always an indication of faulty reasoning and should be recognized to 
some degree whenever they’re encountered. 

Recognition of fallacies is not just a tool for discerning the truth in other’s speech 
or writing, it is most useful in sorting out our own thinking as well. In all of the Trivium 
skills, we will find many that can be applied to the self as well as to others. 



1 . Ad Hominem. Attacking the person instead of the person’s argument. 

Example: “I don ’t care what proof she has, Jill is an idiot. ” 

2. Straw Man. Attacking a false version of a person’s argument. 

Example: ' Evolution states that we descended from apes. ” "Do you see that, 
people!? He believes we ’re cousins of the monkeys!” 

3. Appeal to Authority. Basing a truth claim on a person’s perceived authority. 
Example: “Nine out of ten dentists agree that our toothpaste is the best! ” 

4. Appeal to Popularity. Also known as the Bandwagon fallacy. Basing a truth 
claim on the fact that many people agree with it. 

Example: “Em telling you, Terminator 9 is good. Everybody ’s talking about it. ” 

5. Begging the Question. Also known as Circular Logic. Basing a truth claim on 
the claim itself. It doesn’t “beg” the question if it leads you to ask other 
questions, that’s “raising” the question. 

Example: “Our book teaches you the truth, it says so right there! ” 

6. Loaded Question. Assuming the presumption of guilt in the question. 

Example: “So why did vow shoot the sheriff? ” 

7. Red Herring. Distracting away from the topic. 

Example: “Oh, you think Em being pushy? Weil what about that time you flirted 
with that girl at the bar? You ’re a pig! ” 

8. Non Sequitur. When the conclusion does not follow from the premises. 
Example: “Children are dying in Africa so you should eat at McDonald ’s. ” 



This essay is arranged to focus on learning/study skills by arranging them into the 
three Trivium categories. There are words before and after the skills sections, but the 
focus remains clear. Because of this you know that I put great importance upon the 
skills. But what if I chose to put less emphasis upon them and instead devoted more 
words to the introductory sections, or to the later sections on emotional and physical 
development? The reader might assume that the skills are less important than the rest of 
the topics. If I did that it could be argued that I 
intentionally deceived the readers, or that I 
decided it better to let them figure it out for 
themselves rather than provide the clues openly. 

Perhaps I just dropped hints throughout the text 
that the skills were truly important, leaving only 
the discerning reader the ability to know the 
hidden message. Either way, the structure of the 
writing informs the outcome to some degree. 

By paying attention to the structure, more 
knowledge and understanding can be gained from 
the writing, more information can be revealed to 
the reader. It also helps to understand the whole 
piece by noticing how it’s parts are arranged. 

Perhaps the first three chapters of a book are really just an outline of a principle 
argument, the next two chapters containing a second argument. By noticing this we don’t 
get lost in seeing each chapter as an argument in themselves, but instead as parts to a 
whole. Upon finishing the book maybe we’ve realized that in twelve chapters the author 
outlined three principle arguments, rather than seeing chapter after chapter of smaller 
points. And maybe those three arguments combine to fonn a larger, unspoken argument. 






“I know not any thing more pleasant, or more instructive, than to compare 
experience with expectation, or to register from time to time the difference between ideas 
and reality. It is by this kind of observation that we grow daily less liable to be 
disappointed. You, who are very capable of anticipating futurity, and raising phantoms 
before your own eyes, must often have imagined to yourself an academical life, and have 
conceived what would be the manners, the views, and the conversation, of men devoted 
to letters; how they would choose their companions, how they would direct their studies, 
and how they would regulate their lives. Let me know what you have expected and what 
you have found.” 

—Boswell’s Life of Johnson 

To compare what you expect with what you experience is a tremendous source of 
insight in any of life’s situations. We learn the best sometimes through analogy, by way 
of comparison. It helps to be aware of our own expectations, or preconceived notions, 
because that is the standard we measure our experiences with. More accurate 
adjustments in our thinking and perceptions can be made when we actually seek what is 
truly there, as opposed to clinging blindly to what we believed to be. 

What better way to become aware of context? Or intentions? Isn’t it better to 
level your expectations to the reality of a situation, rather than insisting that reality 
conform to your beliefs? Learning through experience is the best instruction available. 
Having the flexibility to adjust to reality is crucial and will save you a lot of trouble. 



What is More? What is Further? These questions are found throughout the 
catechism-style book I mentioned, Building Athens. They are powerful tools, calling us 
to look deeper, to seek what is beyond the obvious. The search for Truth teaches us not 
to stop at the immediate face of things, to look beyond the facade of what is presented to 
us, and to see what else there is to know about the subject. 

John Medina’s book, 

Brain Rules, ends with a topic I 
was going to begin this essay 

with: Curiosity 

Medina describes how curiosity 
is at the bedrock of the human 
imagination, the thing that 
keeps us looking for more answers and seeing things from different angles. 

Curiosity causes us to ask the big questions in life. It is the reason we once held 
beliefs about the stars. We looked up and wondered, and over time our observations 
were turned into myths about the sky. Curiosity doesn’t ask, “Can we do this?” but 
instead screams, “How can this be done!?” It was curiosity that led our mammalian 
ancestors to come down from the trees and wander off into unknown distances, 
shortening our arms but enlarging our brains (if you believe in that sort of thing). It is the 
thing that leads us to seek our potential and the reason for our accomplishments as a 

species, successes and failures alike. It is our greatest human resource. Stay CUriOUS. 





Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis? 


When learning to write (and by writing you can discover, organize, and clarify 
your thinking), one of the most powerful exercises you have is the Paraphrase. To start, 
you simply take a passage from a book and rewrite it in your own words. Try and 
capture the essence of what was said, putting it in a way that is unique to you. Practice 
with varying lengths. First paraphrase the passage into one sentence, then two sentences, 
and then a paragraph. This works for conversational situations, too. Take a conversation 
you recently had and try and “put it” into one sentence. Then try putting it into two 
sentences, then three sentences and so on. 

This exercise forces you to look at the essence of a group of ideas, to comprehend 
the underlying meaning in any communication. It also gives you exercise in word 
selection and phrasing. You should always keep a dictionary and a thesaurus at hand. 

Another use of paraphrase in a conversation is to reiterate back to the other person 
what it is you think they just said, or are trying to get at. This gives them an opportunity 
to see if they are, in fact, getting their point across well, and it gives you the chance to 
perfect your ability to find the essence of someone’s communication to you. So many 
misunderstandings can be avoided if people check to make sure they know what the other 
person is saying! 

Benjamin Franklin used the paraphrase pretty well (you should read his 
autobiography some time): 

“About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I 
had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much 
delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. 
With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each 
sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to 
compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as 
it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I 
compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected 


But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using 
them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making 
verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, 
to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a 
constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my 
mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into 
verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back 
again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some 
weeks endeavored to reduce them into 
the best order, before I began to form 
the full sentences and compleat the 

This was to teach me method in 
the arrangement of thoughts. By 
comparing my work afterwards with 
the original, I discovered many faults 
and amended them; but I sometimes 
had the pleasure of fancying that, in 
certain particulars of small import, I 
had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to 
think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was 
extremely ambitious.” 

Another paraphrase exercise, the Chreia, is found in Clapp & Kane’s wonderful 
old book on Rhetoric, How To Talk (available at the Internet Archive): 

“In the paraphrase your effort is to supply appropriate words and to fit them to the 
author’s scheme for the thought of the passage. Here is another exercise in which, 
supplied with an idea, you develop it for yourself in the most effective language you can 
muster. Choose an old saying, or select from a work you may happen to be reading a 
particular assertion or remark, and without reading the author’s development of the idea 
proceed for yourself to expand the statement in any way you please. Talk right out. 
Present your thoughts to a mirror in as convincing a manner as you can, or if you have a 



companion in the task of improving speech technique, the two of you may profitably play 
audience for each other. 

For this is exactly what you do in conversation, or in discussion when the 
statement of another draws from you the development of support or opposition. It is the 
thing that you are prompted to do in your club meeting. Only in this exercise you may be 
patient with yourself. You will have no interruptions; you can present your whole flow 
of thought. Just try the exercise. You will find that it provides a whole series of steps in 
the process of making flow of language serve the flow of thought. You will discover that 
the fluency we admire so much in certain others is to be had for the fair price of the 
application and industry required to persist in the exercises that build or help to build a 
valuable habit. 

A practical device of the Greeks. — There is nothing new about this exercise. You 
can try it in its earliest forms. It was the device of Apthonius, one of the ancient 
rhetoricians, who proposed to his pupils a ‘chreia,’ or suggestive sentence to be 
developed by certain rules. 

Often the chreia was a maxim or proverb, current on the lips of the people. At 
times it was a statement from the writings of one of the great philosophers, or it might be 
the statement of a fact involving the expression of a truth. To develop any of the forms 
of the chreia, Apthonius proposed eight different plans: 

1 . By commendation or approval of the saying. 

2. By a paraphrase — expressing the meaning of the sentence in other words, with 

some further development or explanation. 

3. By cause or reason — telling why the maxim is true or why the fact is as stated. 

4. By indicating resemblance — illustrating by comparison with similar things. 

5. By contrast — illustrating by comparison with contrary things. 

6. By giving examples. 

7. By citing testimonies or authorities. 

8. By a conclusion or appeal addressed to the mind or heart of the listener. 


The problems that vexed the ancients in their efforts to gain control of language 
varied little from those that trouble us today. The formulas listed by Apthonius for 
developing a thought are those which have been followed in all ages. You will find them 
interestingly outlined, with illustrations from modem writers and speakers, in Genung’s 
‘Working Principles of Rhetoric,’ or Baldwin’s ‘Oral and Written Composition.’” (Ed.: 
both titles are available at the Internet Archive as well.) 



Here is where you begin to see that Rhetoric is not only useful for composition, 
but for analysis as well. In my opinion, the Triangle should be the first device you use in 
any rhetorical moment as it organizes the various parts and allows you to use the further 
tools of analysis such as checking for fallacies and logical consistency. 

There are a few different versions of the Triangle that I have seen but I think the 
best one is the most basic: each of the three points separates the Author, the Text (or 
Message or Argument), and the Audience. Encircling the Triangle is Context. Right 
away it’s clear that this device makes certain distinctions, and those distinctions help you 
see through the illusion of the moment. 

Normally, people are exposed to advertisements with little thought to the 
company’s intention. Advertisement professionals use our base fears to sell us product. 
Maybe they get us to think we’re too fat, too ugly, or too old, or not popular, and are 
unlikeable in some way. They love using logical fallacies! Their product, they say, is 
just the thing that we need to fit in or look sexier. But when you put the advertisement on 
the Rhetorical Triangle, you can consciously start to separate what they’re telling you 
from their probable intentions, and therefore not be influenced by unconscious 
persuaders. If you realize that cosmetics companies are preying on your desire to look 
young or fit in, then perhaps you can choose not to be manipulated in that way, or at the 


least to not feel the desire to have to obtain every new product that comes out promising 
to take ten years off of your skin! 

By considering the author’s intention, we can glean a lot of knowledge about the 
integrity of the message. Likewise when we are composing, or writing, we can use the 
triangle to consciously determine what our intention is, and craft our message for the 
specific audience we are trying to reach, given the overall context we are in. 

The competent use of Rhetoric is a skill we should all be practiced in, but 
unfortunately our education system deems it largely unworthy, and even in those brief 
instances where Rhetoric is touched upon in some English class, it is taught inadequately 
and without the full knowledge of Rhetoric’s importance and what it can do. For anyone 
interested in really sinking their teeth into the subject of Rhetoric, you can do no better 
than to start with the revised edition of Jay Heinrich’s book, Thank You For Arguing. If 
you want to learn Rhetoric, just go buy that book today! The second best book, Classical 
Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4 th edition, is much pricier but it covers in more depth 
many of the principles Heinrichs covers, although without the palatable examples of 
Homer Simpson quotes, or the analysis of Barack Obama’s speaking skills. 



When you are planning to write something, you need a subject. Then you have to 
have something to say about the subject, some angle from which you will cover it, 
various points you would like to make. This is called INVENTION. 

Then you have to consider the order in which to give your points. Which points 
should come first, which ones support the main argument, and what should you end it 
with? This is called ARRANGEMENT. 

To recall back to the Rhetorical Triangle, you have to consider your audience. 
Depending upon who is in that audience, what their tastes and preferences are, your 
choice of words and phrasing will change. You wouldn’t address an audience of school 
children the same way you would a company of doctors. This is called STYLE. 

Your next consideration is whether or not you will give your presentation from 
memory, or from notes, or even read from a text. Will you use PowerPoint? Will you 
just have a few sketches of your argument and plan to improvise the rest as you go? This 
is called MEMORY. 

Finally, when all of those other considerations are taken care of, you have to 
figure out how you’re going to present this information. Is it a recording? A writing? A 
live speech? When speaking it is important to think about the tone of your voice, your 
sense of rhythm and speed, the volume of your voice and when to raise it or lower it, and 
so on. This is called DELIVERY. 

Together, these comprise the Five Canons of Rhetoric. Three of the Rhetoric 
books previously mentioned are particularly useful in learning the Canons. Classical 
Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4 th Edition, covers Invention, Arrangement, and Style in 
great depth, providing not only explanation but also rhetorical analyses of various 
pieces of historical writing. Thank You For Arguing covers all of the Canons but 
Memory, giving examples from popular culture and ancient writing. How To Talk by 
Clapp & Kane gives the most to the Canon of Delivery. And finally, for the Canon of 
Memory, Francis Yates’ Art of Memory is a valuable resource. 




The Topics of Invention, or Common Topics, could fit within the study of Logic 
because they are ways in which the mind thinks about a problem. I suggest they be 
learned along with the logical fallacies. The article by Richard Larson, Discovery 
Through Questioning, turns the Topics into a series of questions that can be asked about 
the subject, and anyone looking for ways to ask better questions would do well to study 
that article. This helps you figure out what to say. The Topics of Invention are: 


A. Genus 

B. Division 

A. Similarity 

B. Difference 

C. Degree 

A. Cause and Effect 

B. Antecedent and Consequence 

C. Contraries 

D. Contradictions 

A. Possible and Impossible 

B. Past Fact and Future Fact 

A. Authority 

B. Testimonial 

C. Statistics 

D. Maxims 

E. Faws 

F. Precedents (Examples) 


Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student goes into the most depth about the Topics, and 
even gives a few rhetorical analyses that outline the use of the Topics in famous speeches 
and writing. It’s amazing how well that great orators, from the founding fathers to 
Martin Luther King, Jr. have utilized the Common Topics to construct extremely 
persuasive arguments. By simply arranging ideas in certain juxtapositions, thoughts are 
built up for the audience that come alive within them as they listen, and often times if the 
orator is very skilled, the audience will come away from the speech with a desire to take 
action — usually the action recommended by the orator. 



Aristotle wrote in his book Art of Rhetoric, that there are three modes, or appeals, 
that are effective in persuading the audience. Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. 

Ethos is concerned with the speaker’s character. What kind of person he or she 
is, and what makes them worthy of listening to. “Vote for me because I’m a hard 
working tax payer and father of three!” 

Logos is the logical appeal. When using Logos, you’re trying to lay things out 
precisely and rationally. You’re not trying to rile the crowd up in support of your cause, 
or get them to believe you’re the nicest guy on Earth. Your main task is to make the clear 
argument in defense of your cause, the step by step reasoning process of why you’re 
right. “Because of X, and Y, and Z, we can clearly expect A and B to happen again, so 
we should take actions C and D in order to stop it!” 

Pathos is the appeal to emotion. It doesn’t concern the listener with the speaker’s 
character, or try and even make a logical argument, it deals directly with the emotional 
component of the subject and uses those triggers to persuade the audience. “Are we 
going to let them win? Are we going to let them get in the way of making the world safe 
for freedom! No! ! ! Now, let’s go drop some bombs to protect our free country!” 

Jay Heinrichs recommends that you use the three appeals in the order I’ve 
outlined them here: Ethos, Logos, and then Pathos. It kind of makes sense if you think 
about it. You’re giving a speech or writing a book, and ultimately you want the audience 
to do something. So you start by establishing your credentials and character. They need 
a reason to believe you’re the person that should be giving them this information. Then 
you want to lay out just what it is that you’re arguing, so you need to make a logical 
argument. And finally, you want to engage their emotions, and hopefully in such a way 
that they actually choose for themselves to take the action you’ve recommended. For the 
most part this is a safe strategy for utilizing the three appeals but ultimately, BUT each 
situation needs to be considered by itself. The phrase, “it depends,” should be spoken 
often when making rhetorical considerations. 




Transfer of learning is where the knowledge gained in one field or subject applies 
to another. This is where we see beyond the subject, where we relate our previous 
understandings to each new situation. First you Experience concrete events or 
understandings. You then Process the information through observation and reflection. 
Then you Generalize your understanding by forming abstract concepts, and Apply all of 
this by testing the implications of your concepts in a new Experience. It’s a learning 
cycle appropriate for all occasions — dress or casual. 

To quote from Dorothy Sayers’ essay, the Lost Tools of Learning: 

“Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a ‘subject’ remains a 
‘subject,’ divided by watertight bulkheads from all other ‘subjects,’ so that they 
experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let 
us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon — or, more 
generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or 
chemistry and art?” 

Dr. John Nagy, in his book Building Athens, describes learning transfer a couple 
times. Once on page 134, “By examining, understanding, and following Euclid’s 
methods, Masons train their minds to do this (geometrical/logical proofs) in other areas 
unrelated to Geometry,” and again on page 198 while discussing the Twelve Challenges 
when raising one’s thinking, “It is projecting these insights in many directions and under 
many varying conditions to determine how they could apply elsewhere .” 

New experience 


K > 

(testing implications of 
concepts in new situations) 

) implications of 
in new situations) 



(observations and 

(formation of 
abstract concepts) 



KairOS is the Greek term for “the right moment.” In Greek mythology Kairos 

was the youngest child of Zeus, and was the god of Opportunity. Kairos reminds us to 
choose our words wisely, and to be aware of the rhetorical contingencies of the moment. 
In comedy you have jokes that start with a premise and usually end with some sort of 
punch line that makes you laugh. If 
your timing is off, and maybe you 
tell the punch line a little too quickly, 
the effect of the joke diminishes. 

The same applies in conversation — 
when we find the right words and 
say them at the right moment our 
words have more impact. There’s no 
clear guide for how to achieve 
Kairos, but you know it when it 
happens. Each rhetorical moment 
carries it’s own context, and it’s own particular audience, so to know when Kairos is 
achievable is a subtle art, and one worth working toward. Jacques Barzun wrote in his 
book, Simple and Direct, about “diction” as choosing the proper words, not how the word 
is said. Improve your word choices by practicing your writing. Over time the right 
words will start coming to you more easily, and you’ll devote more attention to how you 
say things, and when. 

Stasis is a way of detennining what it is that is being discussed. How often are 

people locked into conversations in which the parties are more or less discussing different 
things? Arguments are so often this way. No matter what the conversation is, it always 
helps to know exactly what the topic is. Sometimes you might think you’re talking about 
cheeseburgers but your friend was trying to comment on the enjoyment of food outdoors 
in the summer time. Or maybe you’re making a point about politics and your friend takes 




it as a personal attack. Make sure you know what the topic or main point of the 
conversation is and stay on it, manipulators will often confuse the discussion with 
irrelevant points or arguing side issues. 

To help establish Stasis, employ this four-part assessment: 

1 . Questions of Fact. What is it exactly that I’m talking about? Is it a person? An 
idea? A problem? Does it really exist? What’s the source of the problem? Are 
there facts to support the truth of this opinion? 

2. Questions of Definition. What’s the best way to define this idea/object/action? 
What are the different parts? Can it be grouped with similar ideas/objects/actions? 

3. Questions of Quality. Is it good or bad? Is it right or wrong? Is it frivolous or 

4. Questions of Procedure/Jurisdiction. Is this the right venue to discuss this 
topic? What actions do I want my reader/listener to take? 



One of the best ways to organize your thoughts for writing or speaking is to make 
outlines. I do this for everything I write, including this essay. Usually I start with all of 
the notes, ideas, scribbles, and sketches I’ve made. Then I start to think about how I want 
to arrange everything — which parts come first, where is the main argument going to be 
placed, and how will I end it? Then I start creating sections for each part of the work. 
Perhaps I just have an introduction, an argument, and a conclusion. Or perhaps, like for 
this essay, there are many different sections within it. After completing the arrangement, 

I start to put down main ideas first, with subheadings for any ideas that fall within the 
main points. So, for instance, my original outline for the section on Deconstruction 
looked like this: 


-Break down into smaller parts that are more easily grasped 

-Avoid being intimidated by any subject or problem 

-Smaller concepts build and lead to larger concepts 

-What are the basics, essentials? 

-Intro To, “X” for Dummies, etc. to build general map to deconstruct 

I did this for each of the skills, as well as the other sections in this essay. In some 
instances I varied noticeably from my original outline, in other instances, I followed the 
outline to the letter. By having the outline put together, I could begin constructing my 
piece without getting lost or forgetting key information. On top of that, new ideas came 
up and different approaches to the sections were discovered. Writing was more fun 
because I had most of it laid out for me. 

Keep in mind that no first draft is perfect, and when writing or planning a speech, 
one of the best tools you have is to read & recite. Speak out loud the things you’re 
writing to get a sense of their rhythm and to tell if your word choice or phrasing is off. 



Social skills are not taught easily through an essay or a book. You need to be “in 
the wild” to work on these skills. The only practice is face to face. Your opportunities 
for this kind of growth arrive every time another person comes into the room. At best I 
can only give you some indications for further study, like so much of this essay. 

By studying the Trivium and/or any intellectual pursuit, there is always a common 
fear that it will make you dry and boring. The exact opposite is true. Because of Rhetoric 
you should want to improve your “game” and develop the ability to speak to just about 
any kind of person or group. You can’t do that if you’re dry and boring, or grumpy. 

Being antisocial disconnects you from everyone’s shared context: modern society. Even 
if we’re not talking about the fixtures of society, they’re always in the background. Our 
conversations exist in a stew of common experiences. 

We must learn how to adjust our mannerisms, speech patterns, and body 
language, to meet the environment we find ourselves in. In Rhetoric, this is called 
decorum. If we’re on the streets we don’t start speaking like a college professor. No 
matter where we go, it’s never in our best interest to be rude. 

Seduction and Power. I was first introduced to simple concepts about social 
dynamics when I read Neil Strauss’ book, The Game. In it, he went undercover into the 
world of so-called pickup artists, men who’s skill was to use language, tricks, and 
gimmicks, to seduce beautiful women and live a rock star lifestyle. I found the book 
interesting but ultimately wasn’t attracted to the tactics they used. One good thing about 
that book was that it introduced me to Robert Greene’s book, the Art of Seduction. After 
reading that book, I realized that it was more about human psychology than getting 
between the sheets. It was no surprise to me that the appendix was a guide on “how to 
sell to the masses.” 

Robert Greene wrote other books that exposed aspects of human psychology, the 
most important being the 48 Laws of Power. While certainly some see this as a manual 
on Machiavellian techniques, it’s not about gaining power over others. It’s about 
becoming someone that others trust with power, and learning to protect yourself from 
people that try to gain control over you. 


Influence. In Building Athens, John Nagy talks about becoming a Center of 
Influence inside of a Sphere of Influence, using the symbol of the Circumpunct, or, Point 
Within the Circle, to illustrate this concept. In other words, he encourages us to use our 
rhetorical ability to become something of an influence to others— a Center within a 
Sphere. When your Rhetoric improves and your social skills increase, you become more 
influential, and this influence can have an uplifting effect upon those within your Sphere 
of Influence. Becoming better at Rhetoric means becoming a better people person. 

Some of the people in the pickup artist/seduction 
community produce material useful beyond that field. One 
resource in particular, a podcast called the Pickup Podcast, 
hosted by Jordan Harbinger of the Art of Chann, is one that 
stands out. While the Art of Charm focuses mostly on teaching 
men the inner and outer game to improve their dating, business, 
and networking skills, the podcast features many interviews on topics such as charisma, 
body language, vocal tonality, to teach the listeners how to become better, more likeable, 
versions of themselves. These are invaluable skills to possess, do not neglect them. 

Basic social skills do not have to be grueling. Simple things like smiling 
whenever you walk into a room, or introducing yourself easily to strangers by just saying 
hi and giving them your name can be practiced daily. Other things to help you are 
noticing your posture, making sure you stand tall and healthy looking, learning how to 
make small talk and keep the banter light and playful, as well as inviting people to talk 
about themselves rather than keep the conversation focused on you. Be charming. 

Humor. Another aspect of social skills that is often overlooked is humor. Some 
people believe they have a good sense of humor, but when you get them out in public 
their jokes fall flat. You have to be honest about your interactions and realize when 
you’re not connecting with others, to make adjustments in your character, try new 
approaches, and always resist the urge to stay within your comfort zone. It’s easy to stay 
in your comfort zone when doing something different is scary and so uncertain. 

No art is developed by people staying within well-worn grooves. Great 
comedians know this, and they continually work on their craft and take chances for the 
sake of their art. They get up on stage and risk having a crowd hate their act, but they 


know that trying new material and bombing is part of the process. They’re constantly 
shifting and remolding their act, it’s a dynamic process that can teach you how to learn to 
be in the moment. To act in the face of fear, and hopefully tell a few good jokes. 
Developing your sense of humor will bring you a long way with people because everyone 
loves to laugh, and if you’re the person that makes them laugh often, they’re going to 
want you around more. 

Study Groups. These 
should be infonnal, localized, 
citizen-led, and trending towards 
improved social conditions for 
all. Study groups are a powerful 
tool in the hands of everyday 
people, if given the right tools of 
learning, and if the premise is 
believed that citizens can be 
responsible for uplifting society, 
as opposed to waiting for government institutions to do all the work for them. 

Let’s imagine something. Groups of people gathering once a week to discuss 
things: issues of the day, valuable skills, media and political speech analysis, good books 
that enrich the mind and soul, historic periods and their relation to today, local township 
issues, open forums. . .so many uses can be envisioned with the use of study groups as a 
base. The more that people have the tools of learning, the better these types of groups 
can function. 

Our society trends toward individuals becoming more disconnected from others in 
person, while seeming to connect more in the virtual environment. Nothing can replace 
face to face meetings. The concept of study groups may seem archaic to younger minds, 
but what we’re going for is a more mature society. Not mature in the sense of a boring 
commitment to drudgery, but rather in the creative strive for a better world. A place 
where everyone is invited, and the boredom of post-industrial society is replaced by the 
vitality of conscious social construction. Young and old can learn together, and from 
each other. The elders can be invigorated by the youth’s passion to change the world. 




The youth can find that their high-pressure spirit is tempered by the experience and 
wisdom of the elders, and they can see how to turn their energy into results. Ideas into 
Execution. This is the way it’s supposed to be, there isn’t supposed to be such a division 
between age groups. Horace Mann be damned! 

Civic Duties. The major distinction most of the people reading this essay will 
have is that they are considered citizens. This means, to put it simply, that we have some 
piece of the political power pie. We are not subject to a dictator, yet. As a people we 
have the opportunity to become a part of the government itself. It has been said, and 
wisely so, that with great power comes great responsibility. In public schools we are 
taught the semblance of civic knowledge. Here in Illinois we are even made to take a 
Constitution test, and that is the most advanced civic instruction we receive — and it still 
doesn’t cover the subject adequately. 

Andrew Cline, PhD., believes that Rhetorical skill is essential to civic life. To 
take the description from his Rhetorica blog: 

“The Rhetorica Network offers analysis and commentary about the rhetoric of 
journalism, politics, and our culture. This site features the Rhetorica web blog, a rhetoric 
primer, a primer of critical techniques, and infonnation for citizens. The character of 
Rhetorica represents the purposes and canons of classical rhetoric.” 

His dissertation, Understand and Act: Classical Rhetoric, Speech Acts, and the 
Teaching of Critical Democratic Participation, while sometimes a bit technical, relates 
the importance of rhetorical skill in the ability to navigate the political landscape. To 

“This study claims that students do their best work when their learning is 
connected to their vital civic and political interests. Students should be given the 
opportunity to explore their vital interests as active agents— critical democratic 
participants— in a polis. This study demonstrates a method of engaging students through 
critical reading and responding to political texts written by and for the Presidents of the 
United States.” 

It’s with topics like this, civic life, where the potentials of rhetoric really come 
through. The ability not only to know what to say and when, but also when not to say 
anything, is powerful beyond belief. Our words carry our intentions and display our 


character. The use of rhetoric in Marketing and Advertising is clear to anyone interested, 
but those aims are so much lower than the pursuits of cultural and political influence. 
Almost every successful politician is effective because they know the means of Rhetoric. 
Every culturally influential person’s speech and behavior can be analyzed for the means 
of Rhetoric that were used, most often, unknowingly. Whether or not you know it, 
Rhetoric exists and it’s right there in front of, and all around, you. 

Most of us do not know what the basics of political life are, who the movers and 
shakers are, or how to engage effectively in that world. We are not taught in public 
schools how to run a successful political campaign, how the delegate process works, how 
to use Robert’s Rules of Order, or even who our precinct chairs are. We don’t know 
what gerrymandering is, or why term limits need to be set and revolving doors need to be 
closed. We are politically impotent. We are totally ignorant of the duties entrusted to us, 
and I think with the combination of study groups and the tools of learning, we can uplift 
the social and political environment directly, for the good of the People. 


Part III: Emotional & Physical 




Working Tools. Let me make a diversion from the central course. My focus is 
on the Trivium, but I think it would be a great disservice to you to leave out 
considerations of emotional and physical development. In fact, I believe that intellectual 
development is stifled until the body and soul are healthy and strong. For the next few 
pages I want to make some remarks about this issue and give only some suggestions to 
you about what can be done. As with most of this essay, I’m putting these ideas out there 
for you, it’s up to you to do your homework. 

Earlier I mentioned that I wanted to come back to discussing the system that the 
Freemasons use, the one that puts the liberal arts in a certain context. To recap, they 
separate their learning into three “degrees,” the first (Entered Apprentice) focuses on the 
emotional self, the second (Fellow Craft) focuses on the intellectual self, and the third 
(Master Mason) focuses on the spiritual self. What I like about this system is that they 
have the student work on their emotional character and moral development before 
learning the powerful intellectual arts. 

My intention is not to promote Freemasonry, but I want to highlight my 
agreement that students should work on their emotions before, or alongside, their 
intellectual development. The powers of the mind are amazing. . .just look around at any 
city and realize that it was constructed by people who used their thoughts to plan the 
buildings, streets, canals, etc. The problem is that we have advanced so much 
technologically that our emotional selves haven’t had a chance to catch up! We have a 
plethora of technology and capability, but a deficit of soul. Our educational departments 
want us to focus more on math and science, but less on the arts and humanities. As 
humans, we need both the Arts and the Sciences to realize our full potential. It’s with 
that in mind that this discussion about Masonic symbolism takes place. 

Freemasons teach through ritual and lecture, using symbolism, metaphor, and 
allegory. Symbols are focal points for attention, objects that can become like a living 
force within the soul or inner life. They are endless sources for contemplation and 
revelation. Through analogy they point us toward higher ideals about the Self, and 
meditating upon them opens up within us new angles of cognition and understanding. 


While there are numerous symbols each Mason is required to learn about, I am only 
going to talk about four symbols from the first degree: the Rough Ashlar, the Gavel, the 
Chisel, and the 24-inch Gauge. 

The Rough Ashlar is an uncut stone brought from the far-away quarry that must 
be cut into proper shape (the Perfect Ashlar) in order to be used to build the Temple. 

This represents the Apprentice that must work to improve himself before truly becoming 
a Master. In order to cut this ashlar to its proper form, the Apprentice uses three working 
tools. The Gavel represents energy and action. It’s the masculine force that seeks to 
bring passion into a situation. The Gavel could become reckless and be used to cause 
great harm, and so it must be brought into focus. The Chisel, sometimes representing 
education, is the Feminine aspect that uses its discernment to guide the Gavel’s energy in 
order to make proper cuts into the Ashlar — or proper changes in the Apprentice’s life. 

The Chisel keeps the Gavel from swinging wildly and causing hann, giving it purpose. 
These working tools are balanced by the 24-inch Gauge, which represents the ability to 
know what angle to hold the Chisel at, and how much force should go into the swing in 
order to make perfect, right angle cuts. The Gauge also represents the twenty-four hours 
in a day, and so is a symbol for Time Management, a subject that every successful person 
is very familiar with. 


lilt 1-1 L 


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Self-esteem. One day I came across an interesting book at the thrift store. It looked like 
a self-help book — not at all my favorite genre — but it caught my attention so I picked it 
up and skimmed through it. The book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel 
Branden, turned out to be a book that changed the way I thought about education, child- 
raising, and life in general. Branden defines self-esteem as: 

1 . Confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the 
basic challenges of life; and 

2. Confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, 
deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy 
the fruits of our efforts. 

Given that definition, self-esteem goes way beyond just simply feeling good about 
yourself, it’s about making right decisions and leading a better life. The Six Pillars goes 
into more depth about the realities of self-esteem and how to build it in your own life. I 
can’t recommend it to you enough. Branden shows how high self-esteem makes you a 
better learner and a more effective person. In other words, you’re not only going to be 
better at figuring things out, you’re going to be better at making things happen. Getting 
things done. Moving and shaking! 

Some of the traits that Branden says comes along with high self-esteem are 
rationality, realism, intuitiveness, creativity, independence, flexibility, ability to manage 
change, willingness to admit (and correct) mistakes, and finally, benevolence and 
cooperativeness. Add to all of that the critical thinking skills found in the Trivium and I 
can’t think of a better set of qualities I would want to see in a student! 

Conspiracy. Another book that I highly recommend to you is The Straight-A 
Conspiracy by Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien. They teach learning tools that enable a 
teenager to get through high school with flying colors, and tackle the challenges of 
college like a pro. One of the most important points they make is the idea that your 
emotions play a large part in how well you can learn. Self-limiting beliefs are the 
number one cause of poor learning ability. When you tell yourself that you can’t figure 
math out, that you’re just not good at math, that some people are good at math, and that 
you’ll never figure out how to do math. . .well, guess what? You won’t get good at math. 


These limiting beliefs are the enemy of the Trivium student. We must eliminate them 
wherever we encounter them, in whatever form they take. If there’s one point I’ve tried 
to make here in this essay it is that YOU CAN LEARN ANYTHING you want, and even 
if you don’t know how you’re going to do it, here are some good tricks for you to try out. 
Grab that book, it’s a good companion to this essay and they even have some tips in there 
that relate quite well to the Trivium Method. 

Stress. I’ve already mentioned the book, Brain Rules, and one of the points made 
in that book is that the brain does not perform very well at all under the influence of 
stress hormones. In fact, constant exposure to stress hormones can cause damage to 
certain parts of the brain. If you find that you are overly stressed in your life, do some 
work on yourself before trying to engage your intellectual capacity. Take care of your 
soul so that you can handle the workload of uplifting your mind. Time management, 
yoga, tai chi, therapy, leaving bad relationships, starting a workout routine, quitting the 
dead-end job, whatever it takes to eliminate stress in your life should be your goals. By 
working on yourself, you should see an increase in calmness of the soul and mind, as well 
as more physical ease. The challenges of life become less harrowing for you and instead 
become challenges that inspire you to grow. Be well and take care of your soul before 
building up your mind 

A form of stress that many people experience is the stress of option overload. 

They begin their studies and quickly realize they have so much that they want to learn, 
they don’t know where to start and become overwhelmed. They jump from one subject 
to another, never fully developing their understanding, or they dabble here and there and 
sort of give up on the whole endeavor because it wasn’t giving them quick results. The 
best thing you can do if you experience this is to write down all of your goals (for 
education, but this works for life, too). Look at your list and ask yourself what are your 
three most important goals? If that is still difficult, ask yourself which of those goals you 
would want to work on everyday. Then ask yourself if you could pick two goals to work 
on everyday, what would they be, and then again ask about three goals to work everyday. 
By detennining your three most important goals, you separate the wheat from the chaff in 
your studies and learn to manage your time better. 



The Feeling. Although this section is one of the shortest, it covers a most 
important topic. The health of the body has everything to do with the health of the mind 
and emotion. Not only does physical vitality reduce the amounts of stress hormones in 
the body, but it also releases the “good neurochemicals” that create states of happiness 
and elation. I can’t even begin to recommend to you a course of exercise or fitness 
because each person’s needs are so unique. I will say that it is better to do something to 
improve your physical vitality than to do nothing at all. Even if you just do some 
pushups in the morning and stretches at night, that’s better than television all day. 
Cardiovascular health has a great effect on the mind, as Medina points out in Brain Rules. 
Even ten to twenty minutes a day of good cardio can have an improving effect. 

One thing I’d like point out, though, is the feeling you have in your body. Notice 
your body right now, does it feel tight? Is it relaxed? Does it feel sluggish, or exhausted? 
Do some parts of it feel “empty” and other parts “full?” Hopefully you’re feeling on top 
of your game, but the reality is that modem life is pretty taxing on our poor bodies. This 
lack of vitality in our bodies has an effect on the quality of our minds. Sluggish bodies 
do not breed witty minds. Negative mental habits can often create micro-tensions in the 
body, using up more oxygen than necessary and producing more stress hormones than 

By improving the body we can improve the mind, but by improving the mind the 
body is rewarded, too. More organized thoughts give more room for clarity and peace of 
mind, and this means our bodies remain more calm and stress-free, even in the midst of 
chaos. Also, modern neuroscience shows that the brain creates more neural connections 
when you’re learning something physical. So if you couple the extra neural boost that 
physical learning gives you with the intellectual development of the Trivium stuff, you’re 
going to be rocking out. Say hello to a new brain. . . 

Exercise. There are so many fads that come out each year claiming to give you 
amazing results in your body strength and figure that it’s hard to know what’s useful and 
what is not. Are you going to do a cardio workout, circuit training, body building, cross 
fit, Pilates, spinning classes, martial arts, or resistance band training? So much to choose 

from. For the complete beginner, I suggest starting from the beginning: body weight 
exercise. To use your own body weight to get fit requires no equipment and is the most 
universal form of fitness. The mighty Spartans 
were known for their calisthenics. Many forms 
of martial arts emphasize body weight exercises 
to strengthen not only the muscles, but the 
powerful tendons as well, while providing 

Even within the genre of body weight 
workouts, there is much to choose from. The 
book that I recommend to you most is called 
Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade. Wade, a 
somewhat controversial figure, claims to have 
learned the ropes of body weight training from 
a Navy Seal while incarcerated in prison. 

Taking what he learned, he trimmed the 
knowledge down to six core exercises that 
cover all of the major muscle groups of the 
body, providing about ten exercises for each 
that lead you up to the final master step. So 
basically his system is progressive and is 
designed for people just starting out, or athletes 
coming back from an injury, that want to start 
slow and work up to powerhouse levels. The 
book has many pictures and adequate 
descriptions so anybody can get great benefits 
from it. I’ve read many reviews of this book 
that say that this is not the way convicts 
workout, that these are more gymnastic type 
workouts, or that Wade was never even in prison. Whatever the truth of the matter is, the 
workouts in this book are effective and are extremely beneficial to anyone looking to get 

Fig. 22 Bach View of the Superficial Muscles. 


fit, and it’s designed for the absolute beginner! And even if they are exercises pulled 
from gymnastics, have you ever seen a professional gymnast that wasn’t ripped? 

For people looking for a little bit more than body weight conditioning I say try 
kettle bell training. Kettle bells are a very old device, a form of them have been used at 
Shaolin temple for centuries, but it was the Russians that truly developed them to a high 
level. Get a good trainer to leam the proper technique for kettle bells because you can get 
hurt with them if you aren’t perfonning correctly. Much different than traditional weight 
lifting, kettle bells give you more dynamic, full body exercises which is essential for 
personal vitality and athletic ability. There are many instructional DVDs you can buy but 
I don’t have a favorite. Just about anything you find through the company Onnit will be 
solid, so start there. 

Tai Chi, There are so many relaxation 
techniques and exercise regiments that I could 
recommend, but the only one I’m going to leave 
you with is the ancient practice, and martial art, 
called Tai Chi Quan. It’s roots trace back to 
ancient India and the bio-energetic practices 
employed by the Yogis. Many of these practices 
made their way into China where it was mixed 
with many of the medical practices in existence 
then, much of which focused on “chi” or a quality of mind and body in which the mind 
was used to clear “blockages” in blood flow, as well as strengthen the tendons. There 
are many forms of Tai Chi but the one I recommend the most is the original, Chen style. 
The Chen style focuses the beginning student on exercises that build up internal energy, 
mind/body awareness, increased blood circulation, and strengthening of the lower half of 
the body while introducing very relaxed movements to the upper half. Imagine a great 
tree with firm roots digging straight into the ground while its limbs move lightly in the 
breeze. I’ve never experienced anything that focuses my mind and body so much as Tai 
Chi practice, and I can only hope that you can find a Chen style teacher in your area 
(Yang and Wu styles are also very good in their own way, though it is less intensive on 
the body and difficult to find a direct lineage teacher). To learn the practice of Standing 


Meditation (Zhan Zhuang, or, Standing Like Pole, a type of Chi Gung) is enough to 
introduce a great amount of vitality into your body and mind, but like anything physical it 
is best learned with a skilled teacher to guide you. 



Hopefully by now, if I’ve done my job well, you have a much clearer understanding of 
what the Trivium is and how to go about using it. As time goes on I’ll be revising and 
updating this work, adding ideas where necessary and improving the language whenever 
possible. For now, you have in your hands the beginning of a new relationship to the 
practice of learning, and a distinct sense that education is completely obtainable outside 
of the classroom or lecture hall. 

One thing to keep in mind is that this type of learning is a progression, not an 
installment. Like I mentioned earlier, these are skills and they need to be practiced over 
and over. I threw a lot out at you, but let me do you a favor and give you my Top 5 
Trivium Skills. This is not an easy task because some of the skills you only use when 
necessary, like Defining Terms, while others are always running in the background, like 
Finding the Argument. Curiosity (More & Further) is the one that leads to all the rest, in 
my opinion, but that is way too vague. Given that, here is my list of the top five Trivium 






If you practice just those five skills alone you will have gained quite a bit in your 
education. The Paraphrase? You can apply that one right away with those exercises I 
gave you. Paraphrase my essay in one sentence. Now try it in one paragraph. 

Turn on the television and see how many times advertisers sell you something by 
saying either how many units they’ve sold or how many customers they’ve served 
(Appeal to Popularity), or how their product is the best because a doctor recommends it 
(Appeal to Authority). Then turn on a political show: how many times can you spot the 
Straw Man Fallacy, or Poisoning the Well, Guilt By Association, or the Slippery Slope? 

If you don’t know those fallacies yet spend ten minutes getting familiar and then look 

Just work until these skills become mental habits, and the effects of Automaticity 
settle in and you don’t have to consciously think about these skills so much, freeing up 
space for more advanced thinking. Use this essay as fodder for your analysis. Where did 
I use improper grammar? What assertions did I make with no foundation? Did I forget 
to tie up certain thoughts, or 
leave questions wide open and 
dangling? What new words did 
you encounter? Did I use 
familiar words in ways you 
thought inappropriate or 
unnecessary? What points really 
intrigued you? Have you been 
taking notes ? 

Something that should be 
said before we finish here is how 
different this approach is to the 
classical method of the Greek, Roman, and Middle Ages. In those times, the Trivium was 
taught by reading from pre-selected texts. Even modern authors like Mortimer Adler and 
Susan Wise-Bauer have much different takes on this old classic. When it comes down to 
it, the best practice comes from applying these methods to the reading of good books. 
Great books, even. The experience of conquering a difficult and very well written piece 
of literature bears tremendous rewards. To follow through and reach a high level of 
understanding is to create amazing, well-organized, connections in the brain. It builds 
intellectual muscle. I won’t be surprised when scientists find that studying the Trivium 
helps the brain to function better overall. 

Some might notice that I’ve mentioned almost nothing at all about the Liberal 
Sciences: the Quadrivium of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. The reason 
for this is that the Trivium provides the Tools of Learning, the Quadrivium invites you to 
study the subjects that deal with the phenomena of Reality. Lirst obtain the thinking 




skills of the Trivium, and then go on to further studies. But you shouldn’t avoid the 
Quadrivium subjects, they are universally beneficial in all time periods. Some authors, 
usually the older ones, talk about Astronomy as the highest of man’s abilities because it 
brings the mind into contact with the great 
Infinite Universe that surrounds us — the 
ultimate mystery and source of wonder. 

To look up into the night sky and have 
some knowledge about the movement of 
planetary bodies, and then further to 
understand the immense scales of distance 
that are at play when contemplating the 
cosmos. . .it leaves one breathless with 
wonder. True understanding of science 
should bring you to such ecstatic states. 

So now a big question is left at 

your feet: what do you do with all 

of this knowledge? Unfortunately, I 

cannot answer this question for you, it depends all upon who you are and what your goals 
are. I’ve given some indications of what can be done with this knowledge but essentially 
I’m leaving that interpretation up to you. I would like to kn ow that you’ve become a 
better reader, and a better listener because of this. I would like to know that you’ve 
begun to develop solid critical thinking skills and the no-fear attitude to apply them in 
everyday situations. I would definitely like to know that you’ve gained an appreciation 
for books and the pursuits of the intellect. And ultimately, I would like to know that the 
Trivium Method, the Liberating Arts, have enriched your life, giving you more 
appreciation for the incredible world around you. 



There’s one more thing I want to leave you with. And yes, it comes from those 
mysterious Masons again. Some of their symbols are so rich with meaning for Trivium 
students, I can’t leave them out. 

In the Second Degree lecture, initiates are told about the Winding Staircase. 
Composed of sections with steps of specific number (3, 5 & 7), it describes to the initiate 
something of great importance, but what? The three steps seem to signify the three 
degrees of the Blue Lodge. Ok, that makes sense. The five steps signify the Five Senses. 
They also signify the “Five Orders of Architecture,” five differently styled pillars, and are 
a lesson on noticing the differences in things that are similar (ponder on that one). Next 
we have the seven steps that 
signify — you guessed it -the 
Seven Liberal Arts and 

So starting from the 
Five Senses (5) you ascend first 
to the Trivium (3) and then the 
Quadrivium (4). 3+4=7. Right 
there in the symbol you have 
the concept built-in that you first take in data from reality via your Five Senses, and then 
you begin to make sense of that data and symbolize it (in language) via the three subjects 
of the Trivium, and then you study and further symbolize (in number) reality via the 
sciences of the Quadrivium. From there you ascend to the Middle Chamber, which is 
sometimes depicted as a scene of Nature. Reality. That which we know is. The 
difference between the initiate at the top of the stairs and the one at the bottom is that the 
one at the bottom only perceives Nature, while the one at the top has begun to truly 
understand it. 

Then you have to consider the Winding Staircase alone. It’s a symbol of 
ascension, and of courage. It symbolizes courage because as you ascend you cannot see 


where you are going, where the path is 
leading you. You know that you’re going 
up but the way is not clear. It takes a bit 
of faith to keep climbing. The next step is 
within sight but you cannot see many more 
than that, and the torches burn dimly. You 
know you’re ascending and getting to 
some greater point of Light, but you’re not 
sure how much more you have to go. I 
struggled to understand and for a while it 
didn’t seem like much was happening, but then all of a sudden. . .Light. Things started 
clicking in my brain. Where there was once Chaos I now found the beginnings of Order. 
My journey in self-education is not finished by any means, but it’s well under way. 
Hopefully you now have the tools you need to begin the same journey. You’ll see that 
it’s worth all of the hard work, just get started. I wish you the best in your travels. 






A compilation of resources for the beginning student using a variety of sources found 
mostly online; designed for printing at home, fully customizable content. 


This book is an education in reading, focusing on the Trivium Method’s three-stage 
process. A guide for reading all types of literature with short descriptions of many major 


Pioneers in Christian homeschooling, this essential text is useful to the religious and 
secular alike. They provide many ideas for curriculum building, and their decency comes 
through in their writing. 


Styled after a Masonic chatechism, Nagy gives a rare look at the liberal arts with insights 
on every page. Learn the secrets of symbolic layering and the twelve challenges to 
raising your mind. You’ve never read a book like this one! 


A classic reference book from front to back, Adler delivers the goods. This should be 
required reading for all teenagers. 


A gem in any library. The revised edition even includes the Argument Lab which is 
useful for group learning. Sharpen your rhetorical skills here first. 


Another book that should be required reading for all high schools entrants. It really does 
blow away the myth that getting good grades is hard to do. Never feel dumb again! 


Challenging, hard to read, written in Latinized English, but no Trivium student should go 
without it. Cut your teeth with this book, you’ll be chewing on in it for quite some time. 
A standard in the field of medieval learning. 



Medina recounts to us all of the knowledge we have from neuroscience that is known to 
be fact. His rules uncover for us some of the most basic inner workings of the human 
mind, and shows us how our modern educational system is upside down. 


An oldie but a goodie, this book focuses mostly on Rhetorical delivery and style, with an 
emphasis on the presentation style found in many clubs and organizations. Become a 
better public speaker with this classic. 

Makes an argument for the proper instruction of Grammar in schools, provides a history 
of the liberal arts, and gives insight into the failure of US education. 


Written by the author of Alice in Wonderland, this old book is valuable for it’s writing 
style and insistence by the author to work through the book progressively, going no 
further until understanding has been reached. 



Anyone serious about improving their Rhetoric should have this book at their desk. 
Covering all of the major rhetorical devices and schemes, this is a treasure for writers. It 
is on par with Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. 


A full college course in Classical Rhetoric and worth every penny! Again, if you are 
serious about Rhetoric then you must own this book. It goes into great detail about 
Invention, Arrangement, and Style, with full Rhetorical analyses of major historical 


Barzun is a name all Trivium students should become familiar with. Anyone who can 
write with elegance and some humour is a rare treasure. Here, Barzun makes the 
argument for more clear writing and gives numerous exercises to try to hone your skills 
with. Another crucial book for writers. 


Ferriss brings a hip, distinguishable marketing style to his books, making the experience 
of reading a fun engagement. Full of seemingly random tips about anything from dicing 
food to how to shoot the perfect free throw, this book on education is part cookbook, part 
lifestyle magazine. 


An entertaining journey through literature using the trained eyes of the college professor. 
Foster shows how reading a book is like going on a mission through myth, deciphering 
symbols that at first seem like commonplace items. How do you know that the red 
balloon doesn’t have significance? What did it mean when Jill told Jack that there was 
treasure at the top of the hill? Foster helps you uncover these things. 



One of those books that I just stumbled across at the right time, Schall writes about the 
true benefits of liberal learning, the things that stay with you for a lifetime. Short and 
eloquent, I would be doing you a disservice to not include this in the list. 



A classic on the topic as well as a workbook. This one could change your life. 


The Bible for anyone undertaking any task leading to achievement, whether it be writing 
or exercise. Encounter and overcome everyone’s enemy: Resistance. This book is 
inspirational beyond measure in a tiny little book that you can read in one sitting, but 
apply throughout your life. 


Another Masonic chatechism this time covering the First Degree work. 


Comedian Nick Offerman has written an entertaining and eloquent book about 
authenticity and following your dreams. His comedic voice carries well onto paper, and 
his intellect shows clearly in his words. 


Don’t be fooled by this small books appearance, it is packed full of good knowledge. 
Time Management is key in success and business, and it has great benefits for your 
personal life as well. Read well and take notes from this one. 




Using a progressive routine, Wade outlines six core exercises that cover the major muscle 
groups, and gives about ten exercises building up to each master level move. No 
equipment required, only determination and hard work. 


Yang does a great job of explaining the subtle Eastern arts to a Western audience. This 
basic Qigong set includes stand up and sit down variations, and explains the inner 
processes that should occur during practice. 


This book goes into great detail about various postures for Standing Meditation. The 
layout is fun and descriptions are quality, you can leam to increase your vitality with such 
simple methods! 


Ferriss has a gimmick in his “4-hour” series, but it works. The 4-Hour Body is a tour de 
force on health and exercise, giving so much new infonnation that anyone with a body 
should read this a couple times. 


A beautiful book detailing the complex muscle groups used in major exercises. The art is 
spectacular and accurate, the descriptions are clear. We should all know this basic 
anatomy, too, I say. 



Nothing beats a real teacher, but until you can find one, this DVD is the next best thing. 
Sifu Gullette gives just enough instruction to lead you to proper form, but not so much 
that you become overwhelmed. Practice this one a move at a time, using the remote to 
pause and rewind through the form. Taiji will change your life. 



Being socially intelligent goes hand in hand with leadership skills, and Owen here gives 
us many rules to live by. 


Maxwell is well known in the leadership world, his books selling millions. Here you can 
leam the traits that all leaders should know. 


As head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program for the Counterintelligence Division, 
Robin Dreeke knows how to build rapport with anyone, and he provides ten solid ways to 
do it. 


Take this book and a notebook and work on three thinking flaws per day, this book has 
ninety-nine. After reading the descriptions, paraphrase your understanding in the 
notebook. Just do it. 


Anything written by Robert Greene is solid gold. There’s an entire book in the sidenotes 
and quotations alone! Learn how seduction isn’t so much about getting a mate as it is 
understanding human psychology and getting people to like you, even love you. It is not 
surprising that the appendix is a guide on selling to the masses. 



Many artists in the music industry realized that the tactics used against them by record 
companies are found in this book. It is the Bible of human power interactions. This book 
can be used for good or evil, so choose wisely. 


The book you start with when learning about marketing, advertising, and social 
psychology. Cialdini hits a homerun here. 

Go inside the world of marketing to discover what dark genius lies there. It is always 
amazing to realize how well they are able to manipulate our unconscious awareness in 
order to lead us to making purchases. How could these understandings be used for higher 


There are many great online resources for Trivium students but the best place to start is where you will find links to other great websites, as 
well as numerous podcast interviews, going into greater depth about various aspects of 
Trivium learning.